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Otago international research collaborations gain funding


Otago international research collaborations gain funding

Two University of Otago scientists’ international research collaborations involving gout and ‘food for health’ are to receive significant support following separate funding announcements this week.

Biochemistry’s Associate Professor Tony Merriman has gained $195,000 in Health Research Council funding to further his work with European researchers in studying the complex genetics of gout through analysing the genetic makeup of 3000 people with this debilitating condition.

Microbiology and Immunology’s Professor Gerald Tannock receives $250,000 for a joint New Zealand-Singapore project involving studying the effects of weaning foods on the make-up of bacterial communities in infants’ bowels.

Associate Professor Merriman’s two-year gout project is being funded through the Health Research Council’s International Relationship Fund: EU-NZ Collaborations. This fund supports collaborative research relationships focused on non-communicable diseases.

Through their ‘Eurogout’ consortium, Associate Professor Merriman and colleagues in Auckland, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and France aim to recruit 1400 gout patients of Caucasian ancestry in New Zealand and Europe to add to 1600 other patients already recruited.

Once they have the full 3000 study participants, the genetic make-up of these patients will be analysed through a genome-wide association study (GWAS). The research will search for gene variants that cause gout, as well as examine how the genes interact with lifestyle and other factors. They will also examine molecular pathways that may drive diseases often accompanying gout, such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease.

Additionally, they will develop a database with genetic, anthropomorphic, clinical, biochemical and environmental data that will facilitate further New Zealand-European collaborative research projects.

The new funding follows the announcement earlier this month that Associate Professor Merriman and colleagues had been awarded funding for a $5M, five-year, major programme of related research titled: “Urate and gout: genetic control, environmental and drug interactions”.

Professor Tannock’s two-year project is one of five newly announced New Zealand-Singapore collaborative research projects on the development of food products with validated health benefits.

He and colleagues at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) and the National University Health System (NUHS) will study the effects of weaning food patterns on the gradual development of complex bacterial communities in infants’ bowels and implications for obesity as children and adults.

Previous research has shown bowel microbiota are potential contributors to obesity through releasing additional calories to the body through degrading and fermenting food elements that are otherwise indigestible.

The contract for the project commences this month and is funded through the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s International Relationships Fund, with a matching contribution from Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

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